Today I met a friend for lunch. She and I used to work together and hit it off big time! We have children who are the same age who also became friends. As I was driving to Dothan to share good food and better conversation, it occurred to me that she is one of those who have entered my life for a relatively short amount of time but whose footsteps echo from time to time in a very pleasant way.
All of us have people who drift in and out of our lives. Some, thankfully, for a very short time! To amuse myself on the drive over, I began to run through a list in my head of those who, at one time or another, have played a role in my life. I didn't think I should count family members, because we all have those, but then I re-thought that decision. Don't our family members define who we are, or at least who we see ourselves as? So, in keeping with the spirit of the list concept, I decided to start with family members.
Probably the two family members who have had the most influence on how I see myself are my maternal grandparents. I'm not the first grandchild, nor was I the last. I fell toward the middle. If there is truly such a thing as Middle Child Syndrome, then there must certainly be Middle Grandchild Syndrome! If being a middle grandchild doesn't label one as "been there done that," then my other deficiency did: I am not a boy. Boy grandchildren in my family, both sides I believe, are venerated. They do no wrong and must suffer from nosebleeds from the height of their individual pedestals. That didn't really occur to me until I was an adult and began to step back to consider family dynamics. It doesn't keep me from loving my boy cousins, it just sheds a new light on things. My grandmother, Mama Martin, probably had more to do with defining how I see myself than any other family member other than my own mother. We are truly a matriarchal powerhouse! The women in my family rock! My Mama Martin does not suffer fools lightly and did not tolerate foolishness from me, either! My most cherished memories are the days when I would be at her house and it would be just the two of us. It didn't matter if the only reason I was there in the first place was to help with some task or just to visit, she talked to me. I don't mean that she and I swapped words, I mean she talked to me. Without ever actually saying the words specifically, she told me that she expected me to achieve, that to do less than my best would result in her disappointment, that developing a life for myself wasn't just expected - it was required. I understood that to fail should be looked upon as a learning experience as long as I had given the task my full effort. But, I think the best of all the times I spent with her my favorite are those times when I got a glimpse of the woman she is - not just the grandmother she is. She remembered to call me when she made tomato gravy for supper (my absolute favorite with her biscuits) and made extra so I could eat with them. My favorite desert is peanut butter cream pie, but not the one most people think of. This one is homemade custard with peanut butter mixed with confectioner's sugar on the crust before pouring the hot custard on top, topped with meringue sprinkled with more of the peanut butter mixture. I ramble but with a purpose. My grandmother would make a pie for me and then call me and give me the whole thing. She missed very few birthdays without making one of those pies for me and letting me have it all by myself. She knew that I love divinity but not the way most people like it. I don't like it once it has set up. I like it hot and glossy. Every Southern woman knows divinity won't make if the humidity is too high: those are the days she and I would make divinity. We wouldn't make a full batch, just enough to either stand at the stove and eat with a spoon or to take out (still in the boiler) and eat with a spoon as we sat in the swing.
The second most influential person who is a family member was my maternal grandfather. I'm not so sure this is because he spent time with me the way my grandmother did, or just because everyone in my family respected his opinions. We were always afraid that when he died our family would fragment, as he was the lynch pin which held us together. Unfortunately, that has proven to be true as our family isn't as close as we once were. Possibly this fragmentation is a natural progression as the grandchildren grew up, grew apart, and grew away. We have families of our own now and our own lives to lead. We don't follow our parents to our grandparents' home for gatherings anymore. Although Daddy Paul was a source of fun while I was growing up, I think his influence actually came after I married. Once we moved to the barn, I saw him every single day. I would like to think that I was what drew him up the dirt road, but I know better. He and Erin thought the day could not end without seeing each other. As little as she was when we moved to Kinston, I believe that those memories are precious to her, too.
The first two were family members who have run their course as influences. My Daddy Paul died when Erin was 5 and my Mama Martin is into her 90s now. I don't feel that we'll have her much longer. She is tired and misses the days when she could work circles around everyone else in the family (and that wasn't that long ago.) The others who came to mind during my drive to lunch today were not those with whom I have had long-term relationships. Please forgive me if I do not use their names as I would not want to make them uncomfortable in any way and you probably wouldn't know them anyway!
I have a friend from high school that wasn't truly a friend until we went to college. Occasionally she drifts back in at the oddest times and always when I've been thinking about her. The rumor mill says she is going through some difficult times right now and I hope that if she thinks there is anything I can do for her, she will call. Another is also a friend from high school but one with whom I've made sure to keep in touch since high school. Our lives have taken such different directions and yet when we get together it is as if we have never been apart. Then there is the first friend I made when I moved away to college. She never judged me for my homesickness and allowed me to camp out on her top bunk until we were both giggling uncontrollably. I haven't seen her since she moved out of state, but her Christmas letters are the highlight of my holiday every year. If I don't get one, I email her to encourage her to get with the program! Those three women, at different points in my life, have wandered in and out giving my life a boost when it needed it. One of these friends, hopefully, will be coming soon to spend an all-girls weekend! I can't wait! Watch out world, you ears are gonna burn that weekend!
After college different types of people wandered in and out of my life. I learned what "work friends" are and how some of those turn in to real friends. Some of my first work friends still show up from time to time. I'll run into them while out to dinner or shopping and we take time to catch up on each other's families. I always leave those chance meetings with a good feeling.
My daughter's friends must also be counted among those who have drifted in and out of my life. At various times in our family life, depending on stage of development or sport season, different children were almost as much a member of my family as my own child. While these children are not around anymore, I will always be interested in their welfare and their lives.
That brings me full circle back to the friend with whom I had lunch today. Before we realized it, we had monopolized a table at Olive Garden for approximately two-and-a-half hours. The only thing I regret is the poor waitress who missed out on tips because we refused to leave. Even so, I felt that we were only just getting into our conversation when it was time to go home. We have promised to try to do it again before we both go back to our jobs in August and I really hope we keep that promise. While we both have lives of our own, our friendship has a life of its own. In order for it to thrive, we must nurture it. Thank you, Lisa, for letting a lonesome mother rant about how much she misses her only child. Thank you for making me feel as if my separation anxiety won't be fatal and will gradually, oh so gradually, settle into dull ache followed by renewal of my own life separate from that of my child. Thanks for the stories of your vacations with your husband that came to mind while we were talking today. It was a gentle reminder that now is a really, really good time to focus my attention on my marriage, that now I get to be a wife, not a wife AND mother. Because of the key times you wander back into my life and I into yours, tonight I'm back on a more even keel. Thank you.
There are four people who are glaringly absent from this list. That is simply because those people - John, Erin, Mother, and Donna - are constants in my life. They neither come nor go. They simply are. They serve as my lodestone and keep my compass true. Without them I cannot be who I am, or at least who I believe myself to be. Each day they serve as reminders of the lessons I learned from all the others. They keep me true to my beliefs about what constitutes value in a person's life. Because of this, my love for them is not constant. Nothing that grows as much as my love for them does each and every day of my life can possibly be viewed as something as lifeless and unchanging as a constant.